Why They Kneel: Why Don’t Police Kill More White People?

Illustration for article titled Why They Kneel: Why Don’t Police Kill More White People?

To examine the injustice and inequality that prompted some NFL players to protest during the national anthem, each week, for the remainder of the NFL season, The Root will explore the data behind racial disparities in the two cities represented in the National Football League’s premiere matchup—Monday Night Football.

Tonight, the Minnesota Vikings travel to Seattle to take on the Seahawks.


Even before Jeronimo Yanez was acquitted on manslaughter charges in the death of Philando Castile, just outside of Minneapolis, he was the first police officer in modern Minnesota history who was charged for an on-duty shooting. Thirty days later and a few miles away, Muhammad Noor would shoot and kill Justine Damond and become the second.

Both Damond and Castile reportedly presented no real threat to the officer. Both officers have conceded that the murders were mistakes. But unlike Yanez, Noor is not charged with manslaughter. He is charged with intentional murder, a much heavier charge, even though the circumstances are eerily similar.

But Damond was white and Castile was black, which means that they are viewed very differently by police. It is understandable that police officers view black men differently. It’s not bias. If anything, it is acting on experience gleaned from working on the job and communicating with colleagues.

Or is it?

What does the data reveal?

Let’s be clear: The number of white people killed by police is twice the number of black people killed by police.


That factoid is usually the first line of defense when someone tries to dismantle the arguments surrounding Black Lives Matter, police brutality and the NFL protests during the national anthem instigated by Colin Kaepernick. And while the statistic is most certainly true, because the white population in the United States is five times greater than the black population, the reality is that black people are killed disproportionately.

White people make up 62 percent of the population, but in 2018, 388 white people have been shot and killed by police officers, according to the Washington Post. This means 41.4 percent of all police killing in 2018 were white victims.


Conversely, 202 black people were killed by police this year, or 21 percent of all victims, despite the fact that black people make up 12.6 percent of the population. And when it comes to the unarmed victims of police violence, 36.5 percent of the victims were black, almost tripling the percentage of African Americans in the overall population.

If you are black in America, you are three times more likely than a white person to be killed by police, according to Peter Moskos, a former police officer and criminal justice researcher at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Furthermore, numerous studies have shown shows that the rate of police killings have no correlation to crime, including a 2016 report by the Center for Policing Equity.


If you have read this series, you are likely aware of these statistics. Let’s say that police don’t hold any subconscious bias. Let’s imagine that black people are disproportionately shot and killed because they commit crime disproportionately. Let’s even agree that police officers are only using experience and training to assess the threats faced by law enforcement officers every day. All of this begs one question that the ignorers of data never seem to be able to answer:

Why don’t police shoot more white people?

In an attempt to answer this lingering question, The Root went straight to the source. What we found may shock you; in fact, there’s no better way to highlight our findings than by using the police departments in Seattle and Minnesota.


Even though black people are only 7.1 percent of Seattle’s residents, according to Vice’s police shooting data, black people made up 36 percent of the people shot by Seattle police between 2010 and 2016. That number includes victims who were shot and survived. A third of the Seattle PD’s reported police uses of force were committed against African American citizens, according to the city data.


So why do police in Seattle shoot, kill and disproportionately use force against its black population? The easy answer is to say that black people are more likely to pose a threat to police officers.

But when one looks at the data, it becomes abundantly clear that isn’t the case.

According to the Officer Down Memorial page, in the past decade, there have been 10 officers killed in the entire state of Washington. But blacks were suspects in only two of the killings. One man, Maurice Clemmons, was convicted in four of the murders but five white co-conspirators were accused in the death of another officer, bringing the total number of suspected police killings in the last decade to 11, two of whom are black. It is even more revealing that Clemmons’ attack was ambush-style involving officers that were not arresting or detaining him.


So police in Seattle shoot kill black and use force against black people at four to five times the rate of their numbers in the general public and 30 times the rate of whites, even though police in the city are more likely to be killed by white suspects.

In Minneapolis contrast is even more stark. At 18 percent, Minneapolis’s black population percentage is larger than the U.S. average, but black residents in the city were on the receiving end of reports of police use of force a full 62 percent of the time, according to Minneapolis’ open data. Black citizens are 14 times more likely to be stopped by police. More astonishingly, black people were 68 percent of the police shooting victims in the city, more than three times the number of whites.


Maybe black Minnesotans are more dangerous. It might be the cold. After all, I tend to get a little violent when I can’t feel my fingertips.

Here’s how many police officers have been killed by black suspects in Minneapolis over the past decade:


If one adds the numbers from Hennepin County, the total is still less than one. In fact, a black person hasn’t even been suspected of killing a police officer in the entire state of Minnesota in the last decade.


And this isn’t really rare.

The Root looked up the race of every suspect arrested for killing a police officer in the last five years. We found that white suspects committed 58 percent of police killings in the last half-decade.


Using the 937 number (the number of people killed by police officers so far this year), here’s what the numbers would look like if cops killed without racial prejudice.

  • If cops nationwide shot and killed white people according to their population percentage, cops would have killed 580 white people this year, 192 more than they already have.
  • If cops killed white people at the same rate that white people shoot and kill cops, law enforcement officers would have shot 543 white citizens this year, 155 more than they already have.
  • If cops killed white people according to the FBI’s total arrest numbers (white people also disproportionately commit more crime), at 69.6 percent, cops would have to kill 264 more white people than they have already killed this year.

While we can parse the rate of proportionality, using whole numbers, it is an undeniable fact that a cop is more likely to be shot and killed by a white person. Yet black people are arrested, convicted and subject to police brutality far more often.

Maybe this is why they kneel.

World-renowned wypipologist. Getter and doer of "it." Never reneged, never will. Last real negus alive.

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Michael Harriot

Actually the number is 28 percent black, 12 percent Hispanic, and the final two percent is represented by 2 Asians, a Pacific Islander and 2 native Americans.

Wait... So you DO understand disproportionate killings!